Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The New Patriarchy


Not Your Grandfather's Patriarchy


I'm first to the door when we get to the restaurant after my mother's funeral, so naturally I open and hold it as the rest enter. This means that I'm the last to the table. By the time I get there, one seat is left.

“We thought we'd put you at the head,” my sister says, “since you're the patriarch now.”

That crackling sound you're hearing? That's the sound of my toes curling up backwards.


Ah, patriarchy. For decades now, the term has been synonymous with unjust societal power structure.

I sincerely hope that by now we've all managed to get past the simplistic old matriarchy/patriarchy dualisms of the 80s. As pagans, we really should be smart enough to understand that the world is never quite that simple.

Best not to take our patriarchies too literally; best to remember that, like “Nature,” “patriarchy” is a term of convenience, a way of conceptualizing and talking: a semantic shorthand, no more.

Which isn't, of course, to deny that systematic injustices exist. (Look at the pay gap, if you don't believe me.) Still, we've come a long way since those days of comforting, simplistic dichotomies.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about the shape of what comes next.


In my family, we talk about food a lot. (Hey, it beats fighting over politics.) Over meals at family gatherings like weddings and funerals, we usually discuss where to go for the next meal.

Then, after weighing the various possibilities, everyone turns to the current family patriarch to cast the deciding vote.

For years, this was my Uncle Milton: a benevolent patriarch, if ever there was one. My father has admitted to me to having felt a moment of panic when, for the first time after Milton's death, people turned to him.

“I don't want to be patriarch!” he, too, thought. “I'm the clown!” Given the nature of birth-order politics, younger sons often become the family trickster.

Still, some social imperatives outweigh others.


Like my father, I'm a clown too, though for different reasons. Many, if not most, of my own stories lead up to a punchline.

Like other outsiders—think of Jewish humor—gay men often play the trickster in public. It's a social strategy, and an effective one.

We learn early that humor—especially self-deprecating humor—disarms, perhaps by making us seem less threatening.

Still, in these latter days, perhaps of all men, it's the fool who is best suited to be king.


Well, welcome to the New Patriarchy: a (O the irony!) kinder, gentler patriarchy.

I smile, shake my head, and take my place at the head of the table.

“So, who wants wine?” I say.




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Friday, 23 June 2023

    My family talked about food as well. My brother-in-law Marty said it was a nice change from his parents talking about their illnesses and medications.

    In "The Flowering Wand: Rewilding the Sacred Masculine" Sophie Strand offers up Animacy as an alternative too Patriarchy. She writes that she is not too fond of the idea of Big Mom replacing Big Dad.

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